Lopez's major league scoop keeps competitors on her heels
03/30/09 12:43 PM
By ED BARK
Last Wednesday at first didn't look like much, at least from Rebecca Lopez's perspective as WFAA8's principal police reporter.
"It was a really slow news day, and I didn't have anything to pitch for the 10 p.m. newscast," she recalled Monday in a telephone interview from New York. "So I just thought of calling some people that I know on the beat."
One of her sources told her he'd "overheard something that you might be interested in." Hours later, Lopez had what turned out to be the biggest story in her 10-plus years at the Dallas-based station. The traffic stop incident involving Ryan and Tamishia Moats and Dallas traffic cop Robert Powell quickly became a mega-story, both locally and nationally, after Lopez first reported it on Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast.
"I proceeded to follow the records and get the police tape," Lopez says. "And then obviously when you see the tape, there was just no doubt that it was going to be a big story."
Only one of her previous exclusives has come even close, she says. That was a September, 2006 report on Terrell Owens' drug overdose, which the former Cowboys receiver later denied was an attempted suicide.
"That got huge media attention, and I got a lot of emails from angry Dallas Cowboys fans," Lopez says. "But nothing like this. It's pretty amazing. And once there's an appetite for the story, people want to hear more. Trying to stay ahead on it and finding new angles -- that's difficult."
Thousands of emails have poured into WFAA.com and other Web sites, the great majority of them demanding that Powell be fired after detaining the Moatses outside Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, where Tamishia's mother was dying.
Lopez was in New York City Monday, where she did the only local TV interview with the Moatses after they first spoke exclusively to ABC's Good Morning America and co-anchor Robin Roberts.
"We've worked really closely together on this," Lopez says of GMA, which landed the Moatses after the CBS Early Show belatedly lost out on an announced Friday morning interview with the couple. Tamishia was still grieving her mother's loss and wasn't yet ready to talk about it on national television, CBS was told.
It doesn't hurt, of course, that GMA has far higher ratings than the perennial basement-dwelling Early Show. Or that WFAA8 is an ABC affiliate station.
"I talked to them when they canceled, and they just didn't feel ready to do an interview at that time," Lopez says. "Once they thought about it, they've always promised me an interview since day one. Then there also was an attorney that got involved. They realized they wanted to stick with ABC for both interviews. And Robin Roberts also called them personally after they initially backed out."
Portions of Lopez's interview with the Moatses are scheduled to air Monday on WFAA8's 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.
"I asked them more specific questions involving possible lawsuits and the community reaction," she says. "They've been just inundated with flowers and cards."
Beat reporting is dying out at many local stations, although D-FW police departments are still of interest.
"Almost everyone still dedicates some resources there," Lopez says. "The reason I was able to break these stories is because of my relationship with the Dallas police department. They have to be able to trust you, know that you're going to be fair, and that you won't exploit them in any way."
The Moats-Powell story is drawing to a close, but "I think it probably will branch off into different things in terms of training and how to handle situations like this better," Lopez says. "But at some point, the next big story comes along and it's time to move on."
She hopes to decompress a bit by spending Monday night in Manhattan before returning to the daily grind. It's been quite a high.
"I'd never met Diane Sawyer before or been at GMA," Lopez says. "It was just a really different experience being at that level."